Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled a pilot program using GPS ankle bracelets to track immigrant families caught illegally crossing the Mexican border.
Almost immediately, the announcement was criticized by immigration reform friends and foes alike.
Under the program, named “RGV 250”, DHS officials plan to monitor 250 parents who were apprehended trying to enter the U.S. with their children in the Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Before monitors are added, the parents must pass DHS screening and be cleared for release inside the United States.
The alleged rationale for the policy is two fold: (1) many of the immigrants traveling as families have not appeared for their appointments and (2) the GPS program provides a substantial savings from daily detention costs.
Are Immigrant Children Showing Up At Their Immigration Court Hearings?
According to immigration officials, government statistics showed about 70% of immigrants traveling as families had failed to report back to ICE as ordered after they were released at the border.
Initially, this figure was misrepresented in news accounts, which stated the vast majority of youths from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala were not present at immigration court hearings.
This number was quickly challenged by immigrant representatives. A clarification soon followed that appearances at DHS immigration offices are distinct from immigration court appearances.
Moreover, studies by various research groups demonstrated where immigrant children have been released to a parent or guardian, they show up in over 80 percent of court cases.
Are The GPS Monitors A Cost-Effective Approach To Immigration Detention?
In an article written for the Associated Press, Alicia Caldwell points out more than 429,000 cases are pending in federal immigration court.
Thousands of these individuals are enrolled in the ICE reporting program, which varies from reporting periodically via telephone to being outfitted with a GPS tracking device.
Within the coming year, she adds, ICE will be able to monitor about 29,000 immigrants with GPS devices.
In her view, the Alternatives to Detention Program is a cheaper alternative than jailing immigrants.
The RGV 250 reporting program will cost about $3.50 a day per immigrant after a $19.50 enrollment fee while other reporting programs cost about $4.28 a day.
Further, ICE spends roughly $119 a day to jail an immigrant.
The Future Of The GPS Monitoring Policy
On the one hand, many anti-reform critics are opposed to allowing any undocumented immigrants into the country, even on a temporary basis.
Other adversaries, though not against all reform measures, are not impressed with the 29,000 limit, which represents less than 50% of immigrants arrested annually along the Mexico – U.S. border.
On the flip side of the political aisle, some pro-immigrant advocates have pointed out the DHS calculations are based on administrative flaws.
For instance, a joint report published by the Rutgers School of Law and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) entitled Freed But Not Free noted:
- An absence of program guidelines and the sometimes random exercise of discretion, which have created the potential for abuse and arbitrary placement of individuals in certain programs.
- No clear system or electronic tool exists for immigrants to confirm their reporting schedules or to prove their compliance with the program requirements.
- A lack of consistency at check-ins baffles several participants. Since they do not meet with the same officer every time they check-in, immigrants, not fluent in English, are often at a loss how to proceed when they arrive at government office.
- The frequency, location, and duration of check-ins are financially and logistically burdensome for immigrants and their families.
As a deportation defense lawyer, I’m fairly certain that our nation’s detention policies are not going to change anytime in the short term future.
It seems, then, at a practical level, the cost savings of nearly $120.00 per day justifies extending the program so long as the program’s managerial deficiencies are addressed.
Yet, I suspect this use of GPS devices is not the end of the electronic monitoring story.
In other words, ostensibly put in place to address the large influx of Central American immigrant youths, the RGV 250 program may be the prelude to a more widespread DHS detention policy in future months.
Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics